Although the story offers no real surprises, the author’s amusing first-person account and eye for detail keep the narrative...



Sarah’s hard-drinking, charismatic father has been dead for close to a year when this aptly titled novel from Pennebaker (Don’t Think Twice, 1996, etc.) opens.

A social nonentity in her ritzy school, Sarah and her earnest best friend, Ellie, spend their afternoons writing letters to the governor, begging him to spare death-row inmates. Sarah, still coming to terms with her grief, has recently grown weary of serious issues and dreary causes; moreover, she’s tired of Ellie’s sad-sack personality and her self- absorbed, dysfunctional family. Sarah wants to grow up, figure out how to get Ben to like her the way she likes him, and have some fun for a change. In the course of this intelligent, touching novel, she does just that, guiltily jettisoning Ellie for a new best friend, and reaching out to her crush. More significantly, she forges a new understanding with her mother, and discovers that the love she felt for her father was real even though he wasn’t the man she thought he was.

Although the story offers no real surprises, the author’s amusing first-person account and eye for detail keep the narrative consistently engaging; setting Pennebaker’s novel apart from the pack is the very specific behaviors and warty humanness of the adroitly drawn characters. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-6104-5

Page Count: 259

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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Eddie, a young Mexican-American scraping by in the mean streets of Fresno, California, counts four dead relatives and one dead friend in the opening, in-your-face lines of this new novel from Soto (Snapshots from the Wedding, p. 228, etc.). In bleak sentences of whispered beauty, Eddie tells how he dropped out of vocational college and is attempting to get by with odd jobs. His aunt and friends want him to avenge the recent murder of his cousin, but Eddie just wants to find a way out. Everything he tries turns soura stint doing yard work ends when his boss's truck is stolen on Eddie's watchand life is a daily battle for survival. This unrelenting portrait is unsparing in squalid details: The glue sniffers, gangs, bums, casual knifings, filth, and stench are in the forefront of a life without much hope``Laundry wept from the lines, the faded flags of poor, ignorant, unemployable people.'' Soto plays the tale straightthe only sign of a ``happy'' ending is in Eddie's joining the Navy. The result is a sort of Fresno Salaam Bombay without the pockets of humanity that gave the original its charm. A valuable tale, it's one that makes no concessions. (glossary) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-201333-4

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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When Clara Luna, 14, visits rural Mexico for the summer to visit the paternal grandparents she has never met, she cannot know her trip will involve an emotional and spiritual journey into her family’s past and a deep connection to a rich heritage of which she was barely aware. Long estranged from his parents, Clara’s father had entered the U.S. illegally years before, subsequently becoming a successful business owner who never spoke about what he left behind. Clara’s journey into her grandmother’s history (told in alternating chapters with Clara’s own first-person narrative) and her discovery that she, like her grandmother and ancestors, has a gift for healing, awakens her to the simple, mystical joys of a rural lifestyle she comes to love and wholly embrace. Painfully aware of not fitting into suburban teen life in her native Maryland, Clara awakens to feeling alive in Mexico and realizes a sweet first love with Pedro, a charming goat herder. Beautifully written, this is filled with evocative language that is rich in imagery and nuance and speaks to the connections that bind us all. Add a thrilling adventure and all the makings of an entrancing read are here. (glossaries) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-73343-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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